On Monday, the US Supreme Court turned down X Corp., Elon Musk’s effort to get the social media platform to reveal how often the government requests user data for national security investigations.
A lower court had ruled that the FBI’s limitations on the company’s ability to speak publicly about the investigations did not infringe upon its First Amendment free speech rights; X appealed this decision, but the justices chose not to hear his case.
To provide clear guidelines for when and how computer firms should discuss government requests for user data for monitoring, X said it was “essential” for the justices to hear the case.
Following Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelation of information about the scope of US eavesdropping and monitoring operations, the protracted case was initiated in 2014, a considerable time before Musk’s 2022 acquisition of Twitter.
At the behest of tech companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others, the US government agreed to loosen restrictions on what they could disclose regarding data sought by the government for national security investigations in response to the public concern over Snowden’s leaks.
Companies could now reveal, in broad ranges instead of specific data, the frequency with which they received requests for information about national security, according to the updated policy introduced in 2014.
In 2015, lawmakers passed a bill permitting businesses to provide details on the frequency with which they were served with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s so-called national security letters and orders requesting user data. However, they were still limited to providing ranges rather than precise numbers. Depending on the report type, companies could reveal government requests for data in increments ranging from one hundred to one thousand.
The trial judge’s decision to deny Twitter’s case was later affirmed in March 2023 by a three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The court said the “government’s limitation on Twitter’s speech is narrowly tailored to support a compelling government purpose.”